The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable were two of M. Night Shyamalan’s breakthrough films in the early 2000s. The alien thriller movie Signs, which M Night Shyamalan directed 20 years ago, is one of his finest works to date – but it has gone sort of downhill from there. Some critics have accused him of going “woke” which has affected his work – this is a common criticism. Based on the anemic impact of his films for many years now – other commentators are saying these critics’ arguments are not baseless. His movie Signs explained has similarly become a lightning rod for political discourse, from one side to the other.
Now, whether it was the outstanding performances, the intriguing otherworldly phenomena, or the twists and surprises, his movie Signs has all the elements of subtle, nuanced mystery. If you are watching again, look for details you missed earlier, like, subliminal references to the aliens and deftly handled subplots.
M. Night Shyamalan is notorious for keeping things a mystery, and he was careful about how Signs revealed its secrets. With Shyamalan, not much is coincidental.
Shyamalan garnered success with Signs, albeit a few of the plot twists didn’t find favor with some audiences. Yet, many others enjoyed the suspense of watching an alien invasion through the eyes of one family.
Let’s take a deep dive into the world of alien thrillers. Welcome to M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Signs and its eerie crop circles.
Signs Movie Explained: The Disturbing Plot
Signs opens through a glass pane showing a family’s backyard. Signs is a story about a family of protagonists represented by Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Abigail Breslin, and Rory Culkin, who find themselves in the middle of an alien onslaught.
You have Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a retired pastor who questions his trust in God. He transitions after his wife gets killed by a driver (Shyamalan in a cameo) who fell asleep while driving. Signs explores the untenable scenario of great grief, even while caring for your loved ones. Despite this, the movie ends with the aliens invading their home as the family barricades themselves, akin to Night of the Living Dead.
The Terrifying Twists in Signs
If there’s anything the movie Jaws has taught us, it is that the monster must remain a suspense. Similarly, the main adversaries of Signs had the least visible on-screen time. Shyamalan masterfully uses fear, mystery, and a sense of impending doom. You get the impression that the aliens get more screen time because you feel their presence looming in the foreground somewhere.
But if you count, they have barely four minutes and a few seconds. There is the shape of alien shadows, the eerie rooftop figure, a glimpse of a leg in the crop, the gnarly hand emerging from the pantry door, and the encounter at the climax.
Yet the critics consider the birthday party scene one of the scariest in film history. There is a moment where a group of kids in Brazil record one of the aliens on camera; M Night Shyamalan uses found footage. When Merrill (Phoenix) is watching television in the closet, we see the scene from his perspective. That’s when an alien appears for the first time in the movie as it moves through the street.
The unexpected scare of seeing an alien creeping around on the street in broad daylight like he is Mr. Lightfoot but looking as blatant as King Kong makes the alien ever so terrifying. Not only are there visceral adrenaline rushes, but also a sense of imminent dread.
Something Surreal in Signs
When explaining the movie Signs, it’s important to note that everything is slightly surreal. Whether it is the young woman in the pharmacy wishing to confess before the world ends or the small bookstore featuring only one book on aliens.
In all his movies, Shyamalan enjoys using specific scenes, backgrounds, patterns, and colors metaphorically. The design of the Hess house in Signs seems like a homage to the Victorian American home. Decorated in red, white, and blue, it features little figurines depicting the American Revolutionary War.
Shyamalan intended for the Hess family to embody 18th-century colonists. The aliens are like the British army, who planned to attack them with a powerful and terrifying assault. The Hess family survives and defeats the extraterrestrial onslaught, just like the Colonists prevailed in the Revolutionary War despite being outnumbered.
Loss and Faith in Signs
And now we get back to the part Shyamalan thought was the scariest in the movie — the reverend losing his faith. Although for many of us, it’s not loss of faith but rather a parent who knows his family may perish that may be scarier.
Graham comes across as a man without purpose after giving up his clerical collar. He keeps telling people he is no longer a preacher. He has eliminated all references to God from his household. Furthermore, praying appears to be denied, as evidenced in the last dinner scene which is really tragic since Graham should know that God works in mysterious ways.
In one scene, Merrill asks him about his opinions on miracles and signs, and the priest says – “There is no one looking out for us, Merrill. We are all on our own.” This is an amazing statement considering the power of Jesus Christ and so many other miracles that have occurred for people of faith and for people who turned to God for help.
Some may compare the movie Signs to the works of Alfred Hitchcock. Notice the unsettlingly familiar opening sequence courtesy of James Newton Howard’s score. The foreboding soundtrack was purposefully similar to Hitchcock’s Psycho, which had a minimalist yet spectacular opening.
As the audience, you may find the Hess farmhouse provides a unique viewpoint. You get the stealthy alien home invasion through a gradual buildup. From the crop circles, moving shadows, and the rooftop silhouette, to the baby monitor picking signals, the movie packs quite a mysterious punch. Could you picture yourself at nightfall, knowing that threatening aliens are attempting to barge into your home? I bet you would take vampires and werewolves any day!
The real tragedy though is that M. Night Shyamalan’s best work could be behind him. Jordan Peele’s Nope was just incredible. If M. Night Shyamalan keeps making movies based on irrational reasoning such as The Happening – the real tragedy is that the Jordan Peele’s of the world may be eating M. Night Shyamalan’s breakfast.
Last Updated on March 21, 2023.